< This article has been amended; see final paragraph
The Royal Albert Hall has decided it cannot after all finalise its constitutional review in time for its annual meeting in May, blaming delays by the Charity Commission and a recent spate of critical stories in the national media.
The commission, which is concerned about independence and conflicts of interest on the charity’s governing council, has been urging it to produce its proposals for reform in time for them to be considered properly in advance of the meeting.
The hall had intended to meet the May target, but its president, Jon Moynihan, has now told the 330 owners of a quarter of the hall’s 5,272 seats – the so-called members from among whom the council is elected – that it can no longer do so.
He has told the members that the Charity Commission has twice refused to give the necessary permission for the hall to spend money on parliamentary agents to draw up the bill that would be required to change the constitution, which is set out in acts of parliament.
"Because of the delay occasioned by this, and in general the enormous distraction that the last month of media attention has placed not just on council but on the executive of the hall, we have decided that we are no longer in a position to bring finalised proposals to members at the annual general meeting.
"To do so we would have to rush, and we have no desire to botch our proposals by creating them under too much time pressure. We have written to the Charity Commission telling them this; asking them to reconsider their refusal to allow us to hire parliamentary agents; and telling them that as the smoke clears from the current situation, we will seek to decide on a new timetable."
A spokesman for the hall added: "We have offered to meet the commission again to discuss the current position. It is not a case of failing, or having failed, to meet a deadline, either now or in the past."
Because council members and other seat-holders can sell tickets for their seats for inflated prices on the open market – the focus of much of the recent media attention – the commission has said there is a risk that the council will make decisions that put the interests of seat-holders above those of the charity.
It has proposed that there should be a majority of non-seat-holders on the council. Currently, the council consists of 19 seat-holders and five appointed members. The hall spokesman said its review proposed changes to the size and composition of the council, "but we still do not consider it to be in the best interests of the charity to reduce to a minority the elected seat-holders".
Asked if and why it had refused permission for spending on parliamentary agents, a spokeswoman for the Charity Commission said: "Consent is given only if it can be clearly shown that the promotion of a parliamentary bill is in the best interests of the charity.
"The commission therefore will need to be satisfied that the proposed bill is both necessary and its proposed contents deal with constitutional issues relating to the members and independence of the council.
"We have been clear that we expect the issue of the lack of independence of the council to be addressed in the charity’s governance review. That review is due to report to the charity’s annual general meeting in May. We will not prejudge the outcome of the review. However, we have made clear to the charity the central issue we expect it to deal with."
Richard Lyttelton, a past president of the hall who is campaigning for change, said the commission had been aware of the governance issues at the Royal Albert Hall for nearly 10 years. "During that time, members’ benefits, including those of trustees and related parties, have increased, yet those now in control have done everything possible to resist meaningful constitutional change," he said.
"No one would deny that the hall has a dedicated staff and does wonderful work, but what sort of message does it send to the sector at large to see this flagrant abuse of privilege go unchecked for so long?"
< The article originally said the appointed members of council had no vote. They can vote on the council, but not at the annual general meeting.